Nixon biographer recommends 8 other biographies you need to read

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John A. Farrell, author of the new biography “Richard Nixon: The Life,” — which traces the former president’s life as a young and idealistic navy lieutenant to the leader of a divided nation and, finally, to his resignation — says he doesn’t always read other biographies while he writes. He’ll sometimes read the poetry of William Butler Yeats, or detective and science fiction, which he says keeps his brain relaxed. But over the years Farrell has read and studied a wide range of biographies, and when he recently sat down with NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown, Farrell gave his recommendations for those he considers must-reads. Here are his choices, and why he loves them:

Credit: Doubleday

Credit: Doubleday

1. Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton”

Credit: Vintage

Credit: Vintage

2. Robert A. Caro’s “The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power”

Credit: Simon & Schuster

Credit: Simon & Schuster

3. David McCullough’s “Truman”

“The books of these three authors give you a great deal of information, spectacular analysis, and they also all have wonderful writing styles that put you into the 19th century, or put you into Harry Truman’s shoes, when he gets the word that FDR has died, or put you into the Texas Hill Country, in the case of Robert Caro.”

Credit: St. Martin's Press

Credit: St. Martin’s Press

4. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga”:

“I’ve never heard anything about the experience of Irish Americans like Doris Goodwin’s book on the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys.”

Credit: Knopf

Credit: Knopf

5. Volker Ullrich’s “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939”

“This is the first of a two part series by Ullrich, a German author, and it’s a marvelous look at Hitler’s rise to power. It gives you a real glimpse of Hitler, almost as an individual, rather than as a caricature and a villain.”

Credit: Ballantine Books

Credit: Ballantine Books

6. Laura Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit: An American Legend”

“I think it’s one of the most concise, perfect biographies that you’ll ever pick up and read, and it’s about a horse.”

Credit: North Point Press

Credit: North Point Press

7. Evan S. Connell’s “Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn”

“If you want to pick up a book that explores the possibilities of biography, ‘Son of the Morning Star’ is a tremendous book. He was a novelist, so it’s a biography written with a novelist style, flair, and willingness to move time around. You start off after the Battle of Little Bighorn, then you flash back and go to Custer’s childhood, and then go to the court marshal of the soldiers after the battle, and then back to the battle. It’s just a wonderful, evocative way of capturing this man.”

Credit: Knopf

Credit: Knopf

8. T.J. Stiles’ “Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America”

“This Pulitzer prize-winning book about Custer is done in a more traditional style, but I would highly recommend it.”

Farrell’s comments have been edited lightly for clarity.

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